Between 2007 and 2016, the number of unmarried couples, aged 50 and over, who are living together shot up by 75 percent. It could be that many of these people have already gone through a divorce and didn’t want to go through the hassle of getting married a second time around. Or it could just be that times are changing and monogamy no longer needs to end in marriage.
But regardless of the reasoning, unmarried couples who live together pose a complicated legal challenge, as estate planning laws are written in favor of married couples. Below are 4 important reasons why unmarried couples should consider getting their estate planning in order:
1. Who will make the medical decisions if you are incapacitated? If your significant other is taken to the hospital and there is no healthcare power of attorney on record, you cannot make any decisions about their health or care. The law will consider you as “legal strangers,” and the healthy partner has no right to make any medical decisions.
2. What happens if you die without a will? If you live together and one of you passes away without a will or a living trust, the state will distribute the deceased’s assets to their closest living blood relatives. As the surviving unmarried partner, the state does not recognize you the way it would if you were married. If married, the surviving spouse would be entitled to half of the assets.
3. What happens to your home? If you are married, the law gives the surviving spouse automatic rights to stay in the couple’s home. But not if you are unmarried. This can be avoided, however, if the partner has a will or living trust that states the surviving partner is to inhabit and/or inherit the home.
4. What happens to your retirement funds and life insurance? If an unmarried couple has a 401K or life insurance, the other partner won’t receive any of the assets upon their partner’s death. The assets would automatically go to the deceased’s closest living blood relatives, unless the deceased has designated their partner as their beneficiary.
All of these reasons just highlight the urgent need to get an estate plan if you are living with a loved one, but are unmarried. If something happens to one of you, the surviving partner deserves to be well-protected. They do not deserve to be treated as a “legal stranger” with no entitlement to any of the deceased’s benefits or assets.